To the Editor: If sports and recreation play any role in your kids’ lives, then you’re probably aware of (and frustrated by) the never-ending, mind-numbing ‘discussion’ (read: massive stall tactic) regarding lights and bathrooms at some of Wellesley’s playing fields. If you’re not aware, you may find it shocking to learn of the drama that has been unfolding for over a decade.
Yes, this is about “that lights issue,” but it’s also bigger than that: The Wellesley Natural Resources Commission (NRC), since 2011, has continued to block already approved improvements to our recreational spaces. So what can we do to advance these improvements while being mindful of our green spaces? It starts with a change. It starts with electing Lisa Collins to the NRC on March 1.
Did you know that the fate of our playing fields does not fall under the purview of the Wellesley Recreation Department, as one might logically assume? “Open Spaces” such as our playgrounds and athletic fields are actually controlled by the NRC whose role is to not only protect the town’s conservation areas, but to promote and support recreation as well. So why is the NRC abusing this role and applying the standards of a nature preserve to spaces that have long been designated for play, recreation, and athletics—the benefits of which are too numerous to count? Our recreational spaces were never meant to be naturalized areas, but the NRC has clearly and willfully ignored this fact.
Did you know that over 90% of Wellesley residents want the playing fields to be illuminated and that four independent reports/task forces have recommended their installation at WHS Track & Field since 2011? In 2019, a playing field task force and lights committee was created, but their work has been summarily rejected by the NRC. Over the last year, the Wellesley School Committee has devoted hundreds of hours to researching efficient, environmentally friendly options while addressing concerns and taking into account all stakeholders—leading to a thoughtful and comprehensive analysis and recommendation to the NRC. The School Committee concluded that lights on the playing fields are necessary for the health and wellbeing of students and families in Wellesley, and their efforts on this project could be a case study in careful process, empathy, collaboration, and how communities successfully move forward.
But despite all of this, the NRC continues to obstruct the process while offering nary a hint as to when decisions might be made by the five-person commission. They’ve even gone so far as to openly express opposition to a matter still under consideration before a vote has been taken (as happened at the NRC meeting on Feb. 3, 2021).
In January, there was a grassroots effort to get a non-binding referendum on the March ballot, which would have allowed the entire Wellesley community to weigh in on the matter. However, the Select Board voted it down, claiming that we must let the process play out. This would be reasonable under normal circumstances. But these are not normal circumstances: we’ve been playing a six-year game of “kick the can” regarding the installation of safe and accessible bathroom facilities at the track—facilities that are already approved and funded by other town boards. So where are they? Why haven’t they been built? You’ll have to ask the NRC. Their actions (or inactions) are not in the best interest of our residents. Think of the elderly, or those with physical challenges, or young families with babies unable to attend events or enjoy our recreational spaces because they cannot use a cramped port-a-potty.
But here’s the final insult. Did you know that, thanks to the NRC, it took over eight years and the pressure of Title IX to get a girls’ softball field built? No lights allowed, of course, not even a public safety light in the dugouts—until parents rally and take on the NRC, our girls are on their own.
Does any of this sound like a healthy, functioning, normal process? And doesn’t the NRC, as government body, have a responsibility to represent the will of the people? Instead, the personal opinions of a very small few have stood in the way of the needs of many. This is not collaborative democracy; this is an appalling abuse of power, and certainly not what fair representation in Wellesley town government should look like.
Together, We Can Make a REAL Change. On March 1, we have the opportunity to vote in a new member committed to protecting the environment while being responsive to the needs of Wellesley families and the community at large. Lisa Collins is respected, thoughtful, and committed to carefully balancing the needs of both our conservation lands and play spaces.
Fellow residents, this is not a zero-sum game—we can protect our environment, care about our neighbors, and improve our play spaces. But it will take a change in leadership. It will take electing Lisa Collins to the NRC. Our children and our community are counting on us.
Keri Claiborne Boyle